Durga Pujo: Kolkata’s Favorite Festival

Durga Pujo Festival in Kolkata, India
These Pandals are constructed with bamboo, jute and wood on every street corner in Kolkata during the breezy months of Autumn. Photo by Dibyaroop Samajpati.

Snapshots from Kolkata’s Biggest Festival

By Esha Sampajpati

Being the cultural hot-seat of India has never been easy. Kolkata, formerly known as Calcutta was the capital of India under the British Raj until the year 1911. Known for its passion for cricket (thanks to the British) and rosogollas (a savory sweet), the city’s heritage is too rich and varied to be captured in a three-week holiday. So I did the next best thing. I thought of showcasing the city’s favorite festival, Durga Pujo.

Every year during autumn, Kolkatans gear up for five days of fun and festivity. Though Kolkata is home to various Indian communities, this festival finds special significance in the lives of Bengali Indians. Spirited, well-read and artistically inclined, the Bengalis have been setting trends since the colonial rule.

Rabindranath Tagore (the first Asian to win the 1913 Nobel Prize in Literature) renounced his knighthood to protest against British atrocities in Amritsar and in spite of being imprisoned several times by British authorities, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose founded the Indian National Army in 1943. There are more instances of talent and valor in Kolkata’s past and present. I wish I had more time to explore my hometown and its history.

For now, those who want to visit the city may check out kolkatahub for details on tours and accommodations. In my opinion, the best time to plan a trip is between September and March.

Below are glimpses from Calcutta’s Durga Pujo, which kicks off with the construction of temporary temple-like structures called Pandals.

Durga Pujo Festival in Kolkata, India
A close-up of the Pandal structure. Surprisingly, the knots survive stormy weather during the festival and is an example of the most basic form of architecture. Photo by Dibyaroop Samajpati.
Durga Pujo Festival in Kolkata, India
A finished Pandal housing the idols of worship. The high-rises in the background lend a touch of reality to the scene. Photo by Dibyaroop Samajpati.
Durga Pujo Festival in Kolkata, India
Local artisans are called in to decorate the Pandals. Sponsorships are never a problem as corporate biggies like Pepsi and Asian Paints organize competitions that offer prize money substantial enough to fund next year’s festival. Photo by Indrani Samajpati.
Durga Pujo Festival in Kolkata, India
This Pandal looks like it’s made of brass but the artists have produced the “metal effect” by using cloth, clay, coir [a kind of rope] and paint. Apart from aesthetics, the judges keep in mind the environment and safety regulations while choosing the “Best Pandal of the Year.” Hence, the extensive use of environment-friendly materials in every effort. Photo by Indrani Samajpati.
Durga Pujo Festival in Kolkata, India
Chandeliers inside a Pandal. This time of the year does wonders to the economy of the city. Artisans are hired, decorative supplies are bought, gifts are exchanged and restaurants are filled beyond capacity. Photo by Dibyaroop Samajpati.
Durga Pujo Festival in Kolkata, India
An artisan lays the finishing touches to the sculptures in his work-shop. These idols will be the point of focus in every Pandal. Each of these figures is made of bio-degradable materials like straw and clay. Photo by Dibyaroop Samajpati.
Durga Pujo Festival in Kolkata, India
Painting in progress. The Goddess Durga is about to get some color on her clay exterior. The core of these models are filled with straw. Photo by Dibyaroop Samajpati.
Durga Pujo Festival in Kolkata, India
The finger-tips of each Goddess is painted red to resemble a nail-art frequently sported by Bengali women in India until the fifties and the sixties. Photo by Dibyaroop Samajpati.
Durga Pujo Festival in Kolkata, India
Batch production of Goddesses…base paint is being dried before the final coat is applied. Photo by Dibyaroop Samajpati.
Durga Pujo Festival in Kolkata, India
Above is the final depiction of the mighty warrior Goddess Durga who represents power in Hindu mythology. She has ten hands clutching ten different weapons and rides a fierce lion, the symbol of strength. She is surrounded by her family of four, each one of whom has a pet of their own. The evil demon Asura lies slain at her feet reinforcing the belief that good triumphs over evil. Photo by Indrani Samajpati.
Durga Pujo Festival in Kolkata, India
India is diverse when it comes to languages, customs and festivals and even the images of Goddess Durga vary from Pandal to Pandal giving way to an artist’s imagination. Photo by Indrani Samajpati.
Durga Pujo Festival in Kolkata, India
Inside another Pandal. Gifts and flowers pile up at the Goddess’s feet as the days go by. Photo by Indrani Samajpati.
Durga Pujo decorations usually revolve around different themes. These themes may vary from literary characters to movies to current events. In the picture above, we have a character from “Goopy Gyne Bhaga Byne (The Adventures of Goopy and Bagha)”, a classic film by Satyajit Ray. Many know him as one of the world’s best directors and of course, as the recipient of an Oscar Award for Lifetime Achievement, but few know that he was a talented artist who sketched each scene right down to the last detail prior to making the film. For those interested in filmmaking and Ray, please visit satyajitray. Photo by Dibyaroop Samajpati.

After five days, the clay idol of the Goddesses are immersed in the River Hooghly, a river largely responsible for trade since the British days. The above picture is of the Second Hooghly Bridge (VidyaSagar Setu) which spans the river connecting Kolkata to Howrah. Photo by Dibyaroop Samajpati.
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Esha Samajpati

Esha Samajpati

Esha worked in advertising in India, before moving to Connecticut and becoming a travel writer. "Even now, when I visit a city, the billboards draw my attention," she says. "How a city advertises tells me a lot about the place and the people."